Book Review: The Fortune of War by Patrick O’Brian

Author: Patrick O’Brian
Title: The Fortune of War
Publication Info: W.W. Norton & Co. (1991) (Originally published in 1979)
ISBN: 0393308138


Patrick O’Brian wrote 21 books of naval adventure set in the early 1800’s featuring the rough but amiable Captain Jack Aubrey and his friend the ship’s surgeon and spy Stephen Maturin.  I like to think of these books as Jane Austen for men.  I read the first five books back in 2003 and enjoyed them well enough but found them difficult to read since I kept stumbling over terms like “fo’c’sle.”  Now I’ve discovered that the BPL has the Aubrey Maturin series available for free download as audiobooks so I can blissfully listen to the books, naval vocabulary and all.

Our heroes Aubrey & Maturin find themselves passengers on other British ships for most of this book.  The first ship burns and sinks, the second ship is captured in battle with the USS Constitution, and the third…  Well, I won’t give away the ending but it has better fortune than the first two ships.  The main part of the book is set in Boston where Jack & Stephen are held as prisoners of war during the War of 1812 and Stephen finds himself in the midst of covert spy activity with the French who are also in town. There are a number of humorous moments (including a Bostonian who allows the proper English is spoken in Boston even as far west as Watertown) and some crisp, detailed ship-to-ship battle scenes.

I don’t know if it’s the audiobook or that the book is set in Boston, but I like this book better than any of the others in the series so far.  I look forward to listening to further installments.

Rating: ***

3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Fortune of War by Patrick O’Brian

  1. O’Brian aficionados looking for another author of the same genre should try Sean Thomas Russell’s new book: “Under Enemy Colors”. In many ways it is a better read than the best O’Brian book. Although the hero is English, his mother is French and the best seaman quotes Thomas Paine and has to escape to America…. I won’t say any more as I don’t want to be a spoiler, other than that this new book has more authentic action and will still appeal to the Jane Austen crowd (the first nautical history that my wife has read cover to cover with out stopping).


  2. “Under Enemy Colors” is not a bad first book, and it is a good book for those looking for something in the literary desert after exhausting O’Brian and Forester. But to say it is “better” than O’Brian in many ways…. Bonden, rig the grating and assemble the crew…


  3. I’ll take the recommendation but I’ll work my way through the Aubrey/Maturin series first.

    The second commenter must be a Preserved Killick fan.


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